The Son of Man Came to Serve
Only one week before the Crucifixion of Our Lord, two of the Twelve
Apostles, James and John, approached their Master with a proposition. "Grant us
to sit, one at Your right hand and the other at Your left in Your glory" (Mark
Our Lord looked at them with deep comprehension. He knew that they were only
saying out loud what was on the minds of all the Apostles. Everyone had been
impressed with the wild popularity and the adulation of the crowds. Everyone in
the band of disciples had assumed that it was only a matter of time before
Jesus became the Lord of Jerusalem, drive out the Roman soldiers, and set
things to right in the Jewish nation.
So the Apostles were doing what every politician knows how to do: jockey for
power and influence. James and John wanted prestige and authority. The others
were scandalized when they heard what these two had attempted. But they wanted
the same thing, nonetheless.
Jesus understood them all. And with the same perfect insight, He also knew
what would happen in the space of only a few days. "You do not know what you
are asking," He told them. "Are you able to drink the cup that I drink?"
This was a challenge to the Apostles' short-sighted view of the Kingdom of God. They thought the enemy was the
Romans. Jesus knew, instead, that the real enemy was sin and death. They
thought the prize was Jerusalem.
Jesus knew, instead, that the real prize was salvation in the New Jerusalem.
They thought the end of the struggle would happen in just a few days. Jesus
knew, instead, that what would happen in the next Holy Week was just the
Jesus understood, with complete and Divine intelligence, the main cause of
the disciples' misunderstanding. They had failed to perceive what leadership
meant in the Kingdom
of God. They did not
comprehend the nature of Christian authority and power.
There is a difference between leadership in the world, and leadership in the
Church, the Body of Christ. Leadership in the world is all about prestige and pride.
It is all about privilege and condescension.
But in the Body of Christ, it is all about self-sacrifice. It is all about
surrender and submission. It is all about setting one's own interests aside for
the sake of others. It is all about laying down one's own life so that others
It is all about the Son of God pouring out His life as the Son of Man. Jesus
called His disciples together to explain this mystery, and He said: "You know
that those who rule over the Gentiles lord it over them and their great men
exercise tyrannical power over them. But it shall not be so among you - whoever
would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among
you must be the slave of all" (Mark 10.42-44).
This must have come as a shock to the disciples, and it must have violated
every single one of their sensibilities. This was the exact opposite of
everything they knew about leadership. They had assumed that being in authority
meant that one could have his own way ... that one could push his weight around ...
that one could speak his mind and do things the way he wanted them done.
Jesus Christ was clearly describing a different sort of leadership. He was
describing a different ethic, and different scale of values. He was describing
a sort of authority that differed completely from the worldly image of the
hetman, the gazda, the tyrant and the emperor, the boss and the prince.
Jesus Christ described the Lordship of the Body of Christ as the Suffering
Servant, Who lowered Himself to death so that everyone else could be raised up
He was, after all, describing Himself: "For the Son of Man also came not to
be served, but to serve, and to give His life as a ransom for many" (Mark
In this very Word, we receive the revelation of God Who lowers Himself to
live with us. We hear of God Who bends down from the height of heaven to not
only become one of us ... Who not only takes upon Himself the flesh of His
creation ... Who not only visits this world cursed with thorns and thistles,
sweat and hard labor ... but Who also assumes the full accumulation of the wages
of sin, and the dreadful totality of the weight of death.
In this Holy Orthodox Church, we hear, everyday, that God is the Servant of
Where else will you hear such a thing? Everywhere else in the world, there
is a different story. There are Greek gods who live high up on Olympus, only glancing at the affairs of men. There are
Norse gods who drink in Valhalla, only caring
for the glories of war. There are Oriental gods who care only for balance and
symmetry. There are desert gods who only notice zeal and vengeance.
And before you think that this is only superstition and primitive stuff,
bear in mind the fact that there are modern gods who are mindful of man only
when he is rich enough, or successful enough, or beautiful enough, or important
These false gods have established the myth of the tyrant.
The true God, the Holy Trinity, has established the truth of the Servant
God, of the Divine Grace which is Love: "For God so loved the world, that He
gave His only-begotten Son, that whosoever believeth on Him shall never perish,
but shall have everlasting life" (John 3.16).
Our God is an awesome God, but He is a serving God, Who serves mankind by
bringing salvation and restoration to the Family of Man.
That much is clear. That much we have heard, over and over again in the
Gospel story of the Church
of God, the Mystical Body
What remains for us is to follow after the Author and Finisher of our Faith.
What remains for us is to acquire the Holy Spirit at all costs, so that we
might achieve the likeness of Christ, since we have received His image. As He
has become our Suffering Servant by ascending the Way of the Cross, so also
must we become His servants, and the servants of our fellow man.
What remains for us is to witness to the world concerning the truth of this
Suffering Servant ... the truth of the Cross and the Empty Tomb. What remains for
us is to serve the world by being Orthodox, by being Christian. When the world
asks us to change our message ... when the world asks us to change the ways of
Tradition and to change the expectations of holiness and righteousness ... when
the world demands modification and modernization, and the adoption of trends
and innovations ...
... we respond with charity, and gently refuse: because we know that serving
the world requires that we not become the world. Serving the family of man
requires that we point man to paradise. Serving our fellow man requires that we
give up our own demands for prestige, for power and influence, for getting our
Serving our fellow man and each other requires that we become like the Son
of Man Who came not to be served, but to serve.
This is the theme of these sessions of the Diocesan Sobor: if the Son of Man
poured out Himself to serve, then we who are of His inheritance must serve as
well. He has called us, the ekklesia, into His own Mystical Body, and our
community is a holy, supernatural one. It is a fellowship, a koinonia or
sobornost - it is a fellowship of servanthood that reflects the Grace of the
In these next few days, the Son of Man calls us all to follow Him in
servanthood. So let us show kindness to one another. Let us be gracious and
merciful. Let us treat each other with the greatest respect and honor. Let us
be patient with eccentricities and limitations. Let the world know that our
fellowship is bound together with cords of love, forgiveness and grace.
We can achieve this only when we sacrifice ego and personal agenda. There
are some who wish for the old days when there was a lot of intensity,
controversy and tumult. In fact, I have heard some say that the shouting
matches of the past made for a far more entertaining spectacle.
But that is exactly what it was: a spectacle - a spectacle that confirmed
the world's lack of respect for the Church, and a spectacle that discouraged
our younger generations. I count it an achievement that today, this Diocese
treats issues with careful deliberation. It is a mark of success and maturity
that we can discuss and even disagree with quiet courtesy. We are showing to
the world and to the next generation that today, we value wisdom, tradition,
courtesy and honor.
In the Holy Tradition of the Orthodox Church, we are required to always ask
ourselves, "What legacy are we leaving the next generation? What memories will
they have of us, as we enter eternity, and they take up leadership in their own
Of course, we hope that our children and grandchildren will remember that we
were servants of Christ, and of the Orthodox Church. We hope that they will
remember that we were gracious and kind, and true to the Tradition of the
Apostles. We hope that they will think on us as being always prepared to set
aside our ego for the sake of other people. We hope that they will be inspired
by our servanthood, our forgiveness and love.
For is this not what we remember of Our Lord, the Servant of Man? We are
mindful of Him, and in each of the images of His ministry we see Someone Who
came to serve, and not to be served. We see Him on the Cross. We see Him
opening the eyes of the blind, unstopping the ears of the deaf, strengthening
the legs of the lame, opening the minds of unbelief, forgiving the pollution of
Do we not see Him most clearly, as a Servant, when He bent down, at the Last
Mystical Supper, to wash the feet of His disciples? Do we not see Him as a
Servant, when He took upon Himself the service of a household slave?
And do we not hear Him call us to the same service? For He said, "Do you
know what I have done to you? If I then, your Lord and Teacher, have washed
your feet, you also ought to wash one another's feet. For I have given you an
example, that you also should do as I have done to you" (John 13.12-15).
In these next few days, in this session of the Diocesan Sobor, let us
remember, with awe and devotion, that we serve a "Footwashing God," the Son of
Man Who came to serve mankind.
It is the least we can do to serve Him, and each other, as He so ineffably,
wondrously, unexpectedly served us.
Homily at the Hierarchical Divine Liturgy for
the Commencement of the Sobor-July 10, 2006)